Teaching Christmas Spirit Can Be Parents' Greatest Gift

Q. I recently read your new book, "John Rosemond's Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children," and was extremely impressed by your argument in favor of children having very few toys. My husband and I are in complete agreement but are going to have great difficulty convincing relatives not to flood our two children, ages 7 and 5, with toys at Christmas.

We are hoping to avoid a repeat of last year, when they got so many toys they didn't know what to do with them, didn't take care of them, and weren't playing with any of them three months later. Do you have any advice on how we can let our wishes be known without causing hard feelings? Also, do you have recommendations for a few worthwhile toys?

A. Yes to both. First, I do have a suggestion for dealing with the relatives, but I cannot guarantee that it will not cause hard feelings.

Write all of them a letter in which you say something along these "With the Christmas season almost upon us, we thought you might want to know what our wishes and intentions were concerning gifts for the children. Last year, the children received a lot of toys at Christmas and ended up not playing with or taking care of any of them. This year, we would prefer that, instead of toys, you give books, puzzles, games, or kits for starting hobbies like rock or stamp collecting.

"We have given this great thought and have decided that the children will be allowed to play with all of the toys they receive for five days. Then, they will each be allowed to pick and keep three toys. The rest will be put back in their boxes and given to a local charity to distribute to needy, disadvantaged children. We have discussed this with the kids and they are excited at being able to share their Christmas with other, less fortunate children. They understand that this, in fact, is what Christmas is all about. We will appreciate your help and your support."

This approach is not critical, nor does it question the relatives' motives or diminish their generosity. Furthermore, it doesn't punish the children for something over which they have no control. It's a win-win-win-win proposition that truly is in keeping with the spirit of the season.

Whether your relatives see it that way or not, however, is strictly up to them. Just keep in mind that any problem they have with your position is their problem, not yours. You are not raising your children to please your relatives and you do not need their permission to make decisions for your family.

To your second question, my general rule for selecting toys is that if the toy (or its equivalent) was not in production before 1955, it's probably not worth a hoot. All the toy manufacturers have done since then is re-invent the wheel and saturate the market with junk.

My recommendations, therefore, include such things as Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Legos, dollhouses, soft, cuddly dolls that neither walk nor talk, and trains. Every child should have a couple of action figures, but let them devise their own accessories from things like shoe boxes and clothespins. In summary, the best policy to follow when selecting toys for children is the same policy followed by most of our parents and their parents before them. It is the policy of few, flexible and old-fashioned.

Copyright 1989, John K. Rosemond

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